“The Rule is: Don’t go to king's landing if you are Ned Stark“— Jordan Hall
There has been a rather heady conversation online of late about the possibility of a new paradigm emerging, or what has been called ‘Game B civilisation’. Game B, originally the brainchild of Jordan Hall, Jim Rutt and others, has come online as a utopian project. But what precisely is Game B? Hard to say exactly. Here is a definition from the Game B wiki:
“Game~B is a memetic tag that aggregates a myriad of visions, projects and experiments that model potential future civilisational forms. The flag on the hill for Game~B is an anti-fragile, scalable, increasingly omni-win-win civilisation. This is distinct from our current rivalrous Game A civilisation that is replete with destructive externalities and power asymmetries that produce existential risk.”
To put it in plain English: Game B is about creating a new, prosperous, and peaceful society based on cooperation rather than rivalry. Sound nice? Yes. Sexy and effective? I’m less convinced.
In any case, we should be very cautious—if not cynical—about boyish dreams of trying to engineer a new civilization— knowing the human propensity for war, corruption, and the omnicidal (rather than omni-win/win) behavior that is our speciality. The danger is: Game B could be either weaponized, or turned into an ineffectual kind of ‘kumbaya’, a meaningless couple of syllables to beat your ideological drum to.
Still, the Game B concept does make a certain amount of sense: it is increasingly clear that our civilizational models are failing and that we are moving into ‘permaweird’ (see Venkatesh Rao). A quick glance at our universities and governments is enough to show us that present monopolies of ‘knowledge and wisdom’ are crashing and burning, and that there is more weirdness and existential danger ahead. We do need an alternative civilization model, for practically everything: from education, government, health care, religion Et Cetera.
The problem is we cannot build a new civilization merely with theoretical models or by ‘allowing Game B to emerge’ (‘allowing to emerge’ being a popular buzzword phrase in sense-making circles). And it is very tempting to forget that we are standing on the shoulders of giants. And would be a dangerous illusion to think that — to whatever extent Game B civilization possible— that we can or should create it from nothing, ex nihlo.
Utopian projects based on blank slate ideologies — as we have learned from the French Revolution and countless other revolutions—usually fail, and often lead to beheadings. As John Vervaeke reminds us in his popular series Awakening From The Meaning Crisis, ‘pseudo-religious ideologies’ have nearly drowned the world in blood.
The question then becomes: how can Game B avoid becoming just another pseudo religious ideology, this time lacking in mythopoetics, credos, or praxis?
Game B is not new, and was at the basis of the American utopian project. The failure (and successes of that project) are now obvious as Jamie Wheel says in Rebel Wisdom’s War on Sensemaking III. But Game B has the holy grail since the beginnings of civilization. In mythopoetic terms, Game B is the city on the hill or the promised land. The Game B project also sounds a bit like the communist paradise that Karl Marx prophesied: ‘ an increasingly omni-win-win civilisation” resembles Marx’s ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’
But Marx’s Game B was hijacked by Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and other murderous boy pharaoh maniacs. Does that mean Marx was wrong about exploitation, commodification, or class struggle? No. But perhaps his game B vision was flawed and could be updated. How would Marx have know how game theory logic would thwart the chance of building classless society? In any case, the question is: how to avoid making the same mistakes?
Deep History and Integral Theory
Today we are beneficiaries of Game B visionaries from the past — who have brought us religion, philosophy, and art — as well as modern sanitation, electricity, and enough food that obesity is more of an issue than hunger. On a political level many once utopian visions have come true: we have managed to end slavery (at least in law), given women the vote, reduced child mortality to nearly zero, and made great headway on racism and human rights. Furthermore, some countries no longer are in the state of perennial, cyclical war that was the status quo for centuries. How have we have achieved the various ‘miracles of civilisation’ beyond all odds? It’s been a long and bloody struggle.
The developmental arc is long — and it begins at the beginning. Integral theory, pioneered by Jene Gebser and popularised by Ken Wilber, has told us that individuals and societies advances through stages of development. A child, for instance, lives in a magical realm and grows toward rationality and wisdom. We hope to transcend but include the child’s magical world when we become a teenager, and to transcend and include the teenage rebel when we become and adult; finally, to transcend and include the rational adult when we become the sage. But we cannot skip any steps.
There is a certain natural growth process in culture as well. Gebser describes consciousness as unfolding through five structures of consciousness: archaic, magic, mythical, mental, and integral. And these stages of consciousness have developed slowly and over centuries. This means we can only grow out of unhealthy tribalism or nationalism in time and cannot force such growth necessarily. We can keep the positive aspects of those previous stages — the love of tribe and country for instance — while becoming more global and universal in scope. But such growth cannot be forced or tampered with.
We should resist the petulant desire to want to change everything right now, no matter how urgent we believe the situation is. A rule of thumb in developmental theory, as Daniel Schmachtenberger tells us (War on Sensemaking II) is that we cannot skip stages of development. People change slowly, and to to accelerate their development unnaturally — or through radical change without their consent — is counterproductive and dangerous.
The integral model explains that it is hard to scale individual and social change, for the simple reason that we need first a healthy tribal, national, and global state. This means, at a minimum, a certain amount of safety, education, and standard of living. If we are at a tribal or nationalistic state of development, we won’t become sympathetic to global or universal issues. And the fact is, a great number of people in this world are still captured by nationalism and fundamentalism, fighting to get food, shelter, and trying to avoid war.
History is a ‘nightmare in which we are trying to awake’ to quote James Joyce. But waking up does not mean taking an ahistorical perspective.
A Game of Thrones
“The rule is, if you’re Ned Stark, don’t go to King’s Landing.
The iconic TV show Game of Thrones is a perfect description of Game A power dynamics: a Darwinian zero-sum bloodbath where ‘you win or you die’. It describes the struggle that has characterised much of our history. Ned Stark was a principled and honest King who was victim of his own goodwill. In the series he is beheaded for going to King’s Landing — or using Game B tactics in a Game A arena.
The discussion of Game B dynamics has to be grounded in an understanding that Game A — or that rivalrous, competitive dynamics are powerful, deep, habitual, often irrational, and built into our very biological drives. And often they have their utility and logic. In general, we should not ‘fight’ them, but let them collapse of their own accord.
Furthermore, directly addressing entrenched and corrupted power structures, is not always effective. A better strategy would be to become stronger at home. That means, if you are Ned Stark, stay in the northern kingdom, find coherence at home, clean your bloody room to quote Jordan Peterson—before cleaning up the world.
Conclusion: We need a renaissance and not a revolution
Before any game B theorising is possible, we need to meditate deeply on why progressive movements so often fail. We actually do need grand narratives and utopian visions, to articulate a ‘promise land’ or a ‘city on the hill’. But evolution is a slow and messy process.
What we don’t need is a newfangled progressive project. Game B is just a name for the holy grail of culture so to speak, and it was not invented yesterday. Yes we do need to go beyond exhaustive Game Theory models described by Daniel Schmachtenberger (War on Sensemaking I, War on Sensemaking II.) But we also need to keep our well-intentioned projects grounded in the grand narrative.
Game B should be a renaissance not revolution, about what Alexander Bard has called ‘imploitation’, rather than exploitation. It should be about ways to create what Bard has called the Ecotopia—the ‘omni win/win civilization’, as opposed to the omincidal one. But first we need to study deep history, biology, and religion—and to create a Renaissance of sorts. This adds up to redefining and rediscovering the human being, not as an exploiter but as a learner.
We need a Game B renaissance, not the usual Game A revolution. The game has to be played by adults this time, with a sense of history.
Support or contact Andrew Sweeny: